State in Decline, Employment in RI Cities and Towns: Barrington


Barrington is always near the top Rhode Island’s list when it comes to wealth and other markers of a desirable zip code, such as public school results.  And indeed, as of March 2012, the town’s not-seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate clocked in at 7.9%, compared with 8.4% for the nation and 11.8% for Rhode Island, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Still, within the past two decades, Barrington’s unemployment rate has been as low as 1.8%, as 1998 moved toward 1999.  Decennial data from the U.S. Census shows that Rhode Island’s struggles over the past decade have not left the desirable town untouched.

Barrington, Rhode Island: Population, Labor Force, and Employment, 2000 and 2010

Between the turn of the millennium and 2010, Barrington has lost 3.0% of its population, and although its labor force has only dropped by 0.8%, the percentage of Barrington residents who are employed has fallen by 6.6%.  In fact, in the twenty-two years of data that the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training has posted on its Web site, the town’s number of employed residents has never been lower.

The distance between the two lines in the following chart is the number of residents who count as unemployed in the town.

Barrington, Rhode Island: Labor Force and Employment, January 1990 to March 2012

In keeping with a statewide observation of the Ocean State Current, 2012 is off to a declining start.  In the quarter spanning December, January, and February, the number of employed Barrington residents dropped by 203 (2.7%).  Meanwhile, the total labor force dropped by 173 people, and only 30 more people counted among the unemployed.

If the model on which the data is based can be trusted, that means that approximately 1% of Barrington residents either moved out of town or gave up looking for work during those three months.


Note on the Data

The population data above comes from the U.S. Census conducted every ten years and is therefore generally considered reliable, to the extent that is used as reference for various government programs and voter districting.

The labor force and unemployment data, however, derives from the New England City and Town Areas (NECTAS) segment of the Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) of the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). A detailed summary of the methodology is not readily available, but in basic terms, it is a model based on and benchmarked to several public surveys. It can be assumed that the sample rate (i.e., the number of people actually surveyed) in each Rhode Island town is very small (averaging roughly 30 people per municipality).

The trends shown, it must be emphasized, are most appropriately seen as trends in the model that generally relate to what’s actually happening among the population but are not an immediate reflection of it. Taking action on the assumption that the exact number of employed or unemployed residents shown corresponds directly to real people in a town would vest much too much confidence in the model’s accuracy.

Be that as it may, the data has been collected and published, and taken a town at a time, it is relatively easy to digest. So, curiosity leads the Current to see it as the best available data to deepen our understanding of trends within Rhode Island. If the findings comport with readers’ sense of how the towns relate to each other, perhaps lessons regarding local and statewide policies may be drawn. If not, then the lesson will be on the limitations of data in our era of information overload.